I’m learning to enjoy life in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, even though I find some aspects of the local culture more than a little off-putting. I’ve discovered that if I keep myself busy with things other than work, which isn’t quite what I expected, I can have a good time. But, both Jenia and I have been ready to escape for a while. Where to go? We toyed with an affordable trip to Thailand, courtesy of Cobone or Groupon. But we ended up going where we’d planned all along–Russia.
And what an escape it is. We’ve swapped heat for cold (it was about 80F during the day in Al Ain, and here it’s mostly been around 0F, although we had one day of icy -17). Instead of wearing sunglasses and shorts, we wear furry hats and thermal underwear. We’ve swapped the minarets of mosques for the onion domes of Orthodox Churches. And of course, we’re experiencing another culture, one which neither of us have spent time in for quite a while, even though this is where Jenia’s from.
Russian culture, like the country itself, has an outward coldness that is shocking to the first-time visitor. Most passersby on the sidewalk aren’t friendly at all, and make no effort to be. Store clerks don’t give you the time of day, unless you seek them out and ask them something. Their idea of customer service is a bit different from what we’re used to in the West, and certainly differs drastically from the fawning attention you get as a customer in the UAE. Compound these things with sidewalks and parking lots which are hardly ever cleared of slippery and dangerous ice and snow, and you have a place that’s not very welcoming. At least, that’s how it seems until you are invited into someone’s home–then things are entirely different. Apartments are snug and warm, and rarely will you find more gracious hosts. You’ll be fed delicious home-cooked meals and tea–which is an excuse to eat still more food, in the form of sweets.
Of course the best part of being here is spending time with family, which is something we haven’t done since moving to the UAE months ago. We’ve enjoyed a white Christmas (although, interestingly, the Russians don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25, but rather on January 7, which is when the holiday falls according to the Russian Orthodox calendar) and we’re sure enjoying this change from the desert. It’s a nice escape.